TCA Summer Press Tour: ABC touts diversity

ABC_MeetingIt was ABC day Tuesday at the 2014 TCA Summer Press Tour, with the network bringing out the casts of several new shows to meet the hordes of TV critics.

Executive session: ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee met with the press and talked about a wide variety of subjects from the cancellation of Trophy Wife (let it go, already!) to diversity.

Lee pointed out many of ABC’s new shows from Black-ish to midseason entry Fresh Off The Boat have diverse casts – something the industry has been accused of lacking, including from yours truly. Lee gets it: “If you look at shows now that lack diversity they actually feel dated because America doesn’t look that way anymore,” he said. “My job is to see if these shows move me. The reality is this: Great stories will resonate in the hearts and guts of audiences.” 

Diversity is wonderful, but its the material – whether black, white, Hispanic, or Asian – that matters.

Asked if The Goldbergs needs to become more Jewish (Lee is part-Jewish), he said the program reflects the vision of its creator Adam Goldberg. “I’m not to say from one Jew to another, let’s have a bar mitzvah.” After a slow start creatively, The Goldbergs has become a solid, funny comedy with its sendup of 1980’s life (The 1950’s sitcom of the same name – not related to Adam Goldberg’s show of course, was the first TV program to feature a Jewish family.)

Other thoughts from Lee: He seems to be encouraged by the uptick in numbers and social media activity from Rising Star, ABC’s new reality music competition show. He pointed out the interactive app hasn’t had the same kind of problems NBC’s Million Dollar Quiz had last year.

Lee also is Bullish on mid-season entries Agent Carter and Gavalant, which will be used as gaps between seasons of Agents Of Shield and Once Upon A Time, respectively. He said the failed Time spin-off Wonderland should have been used in the same manner.

And like his colleagues, Lee put broadcast dramas over its cable counterparts: I’ll put American Crime or Scandal against any cable drama series,” he said. “Sometime limitations can provide you with better storytelling, and Shonda Rhimes is a beacon of that.”

On to the shows: First up is the new drama How To Get Away With Murder, the new Thursday night drama from Shonda Rhimes and stars Viola Davis. She plays a criminal defense professor who teaches a class on… well, how to get away with murder. Her students wind up getting tangled in a murder plot that could being down the university. During the panel, Rhimes downplayed the historical significance of a black woman playing the lead on two of her shows. She also did seem to mind the long tweet hashtag fans are encouraged to use.

Next was Black-ish, from Larry Wilmore, who is working on the show until he heads to Comedy Central in January to anchor The Minority Report. In this show, a father (Anthony Anderson, who is also a exec producer), is concerned his family is losing touch with its African roots. “It’s always amazing to me, it’s as if black is a bad thing or something, like we shouldn’t talk about them being black, said Wilmore at TCA. “And this show kind of celebrates black more as a cultural thing than a race thing. At the heart of it, it’s a family show.”

Wilmore, who co-created The Bernie Mac Show for Fox back a decade ago, noticed the evolution of African-American sitcoms: “It does always change through the years,” said Wilmore. “It was no big deal to have black sitcoms on TV…. The Jeffersons, all those shows. Then it kind of got segregated and it seemed like they were all ceded to UPN. It was kind of like, ‘What’s going on with that?’ I called it the Negro Leagues.” He added, “Now we’re a novelty all of a sudden.”

Next was the panel for Forever, an ABC procedural centering around a New York medical examiner whose more like Barnabas from Dark Shadows – he can’t be killed. So when he “dies”, he reappears in the Hudson River (though he won’t die every week, this is eerily similar to Kenny from South Park.)

Creator Matt Miller was asked if a kind of death would kill his lead character permanently, he said “cancellation”.

Oh, I have a feeling that will be around the corner.

The wildest panel of the day belonged to Hispanic stand-up Cristela Alonzo to talk about her new Friday sitcom Cristela. The show is about an aspiring lawyer (played by Alonzo) who moves back home. The ultimate rags-to-riches story, Alonzo grew up in poverty in a Texas border town to a single mother. “I don’t try to put any expectation on this show except for I want the show to portray me as me,” said Alonzo . ‘The name of the show is Cristela. The character in the show is very much who I am in person and I just want to show people the real me.”

On stereotypes, Alonzo said the best way to avoid them is to “ “try to speak honestly… don’t exaggerate what you are trying to say. Everyone is this show is based on someone I know.”

To save costs, the pilot for Criestla was shot on another sitcom’s set (which is actually commonplace), but now will get its own beginning with the second episode.

And she is a sports fan, especially her beloved Dallas Cowboys (but not of their owner, whom she was making of.) Oh yeah, Cristela’s got jokes. Hopefully, she’ll have some reserved for the Cubs.

– Other ABC panels at TCA included sitcom Selfie and drama Manhattan Love Story, which was basically a waste.